THE Scottish Government has come under fire over plans to “close down parliament” for a month in the build-up to next year’s independence referendum.
The proposals are likely to be pushed through at Holyrood today, but opposition parties warned that all other business is being put on hold to prepare for the historic vote.
The Scottish Government has dismissed the claims as “nonsense” and pointed out that SNP ministers will enter a period of “purdah” in the four weeks prior to the referendum. This prevents major announcements being made which could be seen as influencing the vote.
The plans will see MSPs rise in July before returning for three weeks from 4 August. They then leave for a further four weeks from 22 August, ahead of the referendum on 18 September. This compares with the normal two-month block which MSPs are about to embark on at the end of this week.
Paul Martin, Scottish Labour’s business manager, said the business of government must go on.
“The public would not expect Scotland’s politicians to put the day job on hold for four weeks so they can campaign in the referendum,” he said.
“The idea that the First Minister can open or close parliament at his whim has terrifying consequences for Scottish democracy.”
But the Scottish Government said its changes will ensure MSPs have the same number of weeks in recess as normal – while opposition proposals would have given them an extra week off.
“Our plans also retain a link with Scotland’s school summer holidays, and move four weeks of the normal recess to before the referendum, as a means of managing the restrictions placed on parliament and government activity during this period by legislation,” the spokesman added.
The legislation to pave the way for the referendum to be held includes proposals for a 28-day pre-referendum period during which the activities of the government and public bodies are restricted.
But Liberal Democrat business manager Alison McInnes accused the SNP of “blatant manipulation” of the parliamentary diary.
“In trying to fiddle the recess dates around their referendum plans, we’ve been left with a bizarre proposition from the SNP which would see parliament return for a random three weeks in the middle of two separate recess periods,” she said.
“This islet of accountability in the run-up to the independence referendum only demonstrates that SNP ministers believe everything should stop in its tracks to consider their independence plans.
“They should wake up to the fact that schools will continue to teach children, hospitals will continue to treat patients and our justice system will continue to uphold the law. In the same way, the Scottish Parliament should continue to carry out its duties, including holding the government to account.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “The public will be appalled that rather than turn up for work, MSPs will be off for a month in the lead-up to the referendum.
“It is an affront to democracy and means there will be no-one to hold the Scottish Government to account.”